TAULA AND KAULA WAHINE, PROPHETESSES OF THE PACIFIC

Cross-posted from: Suppressed Histories Archives
Originally published: 01.01.14

I spend a lot of time digging around for cultural records of women. This information is not yielded up easily, and the sources are often problematic for their bias, whether masculine or Euro-racialist and colonialist. So it is gratifying to come across a source that contains very hard-to-find information, in this case historical accounts of female spiritual leadership in the Pacific Islands. I proceed on the assumption that a great deal of information is preserved in oral traditions I don’t have access to, and that documents written by missionaries and “explorers” (traveling with colonial navies) can be problematic because of their biases. Yet they sometimes contain important testimony, as shown by what follows.

The following is drawn from an article “Oral literature of Polynesia” in a book with a most unlikely title for such a subject: ‪The Growth of LiteratureThe ancient literature of Europe, by ‬Hector Munro Chadwick‬, ‪Nora Kershaw Chadwick‬, ‪Kershaw H Chadwick‬. London and NY: ‪Cambridge University Press‬, 1940 (1968). The book came to me via a roundabout search triggered by an Hawaiian oral history that set me looking for prophetic and priestly women. It was a story about the prominent kaula wahine Pao.
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Her Dress, His Choice by @EstellaMz

Cross-posted from: Uncultured Sisterhood
Originally published: 13.11.14

In the nineties, girls and women navigating through downtown Kampala would have been surprised to end the journey without being groped and stalked. By men. This was normal; men being men and women being, well, objects for men to grab, gawk and leer at. Negative reaction often resulted in a barrage of insults. It didn’t matter that they had just called you ‘sister’ or ‘mummy’ or ‘auntie’. You were buttocks, breasts, legs. Yours was to suffer it, preferably with a smile, and keep walking.

Years later, we hear stories of women who have retaliated against this harassment. Surprisingly, men are said to cheer them on, and playfully chide their colleague for the unthoughtful move. And so you would think that a lot had changed on these streets. However, last year when Ugandans were gifted with a Christmas of laws, including the notorious anti-miniskirt act, hardly had the thud of the honorable speaker’s gavel died out, than mobs were undressing women in the name of policing decency.


Read more Her Dress, His Choice by @EstellaMz

The Tarot Of The Silicon Dawn by @FeministVibes

Cross-posted from: Is my gender showing?
Originally published: 13.02.15
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I’ve been feeling low lately, with all the terrible news stories of the last few days, and I wanted to write about something that makes me happy.So here it is.

I got my new Tarot Deck today!

I’ve had the Dark Grimoire, (a Lovecraft inspired deck) for a few years and they are beautiful. I wanted them because they’re so dark and dreadful, but dark and dreadful isn’t the right mindset for me when I’m doing a reading, it makes me anxious. So I started looking for a new deck, I looked for Months and couldn’t find anything that even came close to what I wanted, then I found The Tarot Of The Silicon Dawn, illustrated by Margaret Trauth.

It’s bright, it’s vibrant and it’s beautiful. It immediately appealed to the child, the nerd and the feminist in me. I stumbled across the Justice card and that was enough for me to order it straight away. She’s standing tall, strong and beautiful. And what is she looking at, anyway? Something she’s fought, or something she has yet to fight?

It was released in 2011, and seems to have attracted a group of readers who immediately loved it. I avoided looking up too much about it- I wanted a surprise when it arrived, and it turns out The Tarot Of The Silicon Dawn is a massively unconventional deck.

It has extra cards , including three fools, each one representing a different cycle in her life. It has a whole extra ‘Void’ suit, to represent ‘where we aren’t’ The next life, a parallel Universe, anywhere but here. Whichever way it’s drawn, it’s read as a sideways card, there is no upright and no reversed.
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At first I was a little worried about remembering which fool was which, but the styles are so different it makes it easy, all the cards are so different that even if you’ve never picked up a deck before, I don’t think the extra cards would be too difficult to work with straight away.

The cards are much smaller than the average Tarot deck, which I adore. I have pretty small hands and when reading a normal deck I sometimes find my hands start to hurt, which can be off-putting. These are close to average playing card size and fit nicely in my hands, though they may be a little too small for those with big hands.

Another thing I loved (LOVED) was all the women in this deck, I haven’t spent much time with it yet, so I can’t remember every card, but I only recalled seeing one or two men as I went through and looked at the cards. It’s very much a female dominated deck. The emperor is a woman, Death is a woman. It’s a deck full of powerful women. That wins it big points in my book.
Even the box is beautiful. It’s a flip box, with space for the cards and the book (which is pretty large, considering it includes the new card explanations too) A quick-view of the suits are on the inside lid, making for easy viewing.
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The Void cards are beautiful, they’re black and sort of embossed. It’s really hard to see in a photo, you have to hold them up to the light to see the subtle pictures. They include illustrations such as this, the Starseed, a 2001 inspired card depicting our soul, our next life, our origins. I love that it’s a super cute dinosaur.
dinoMany of the cards are almost glittery, too. The twinkle when you tilt them back and forth in the light. It’s a beautiful affect and the embossing somehow makes them seem more solid. They’re a little thicker than the average card because of this, which makes me less worried about bending and creasing them.

I find it’s so much easier to tell the story when reading from a deck which is full of creativity and colour, I struggle with some of the older and more conventional decks because I find them boring and sometimes a little lifeless. With this you don’t have to rely on the subtle hints to tell a story, the tools on the Magicians table or the plants The Empress cares for. The characters are neck deep in their own stories, and you’re just happening to see a small glimpse of it when you’re looking at the cards.They aren’t static figures fixed in time waiting for you to read them, and I find that makes a big difference.

My Favourite card.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 07.55.19We all have that one special card that we identify with, no matter what the deck. Mine is the 10 of wands, so I was hoping that it would be good. It didn’t disappoint. It’s probably the most beautiful in the entire deck, though I might be a little biased. I have never been a believer that money can buy happiness, I’ve seen people so obsessed with material gain that they have lost everything that’s important to them. Wealth doesn’t further our knowledge, it doesn’t nurture our soul. If anything it can take us backwards, while we stifle and destroy our purpose in the hopes of having a bigger car and a bigger house. The 10 of wands shows that perfectly, it shows the wide-eyed, hopeful apprentice finally achieving what they worked so hard for, they are wealthy, important- they are the head of an empire. But they are unhappy. They stand, staring out at everything they have, everything they own, but they are alone. It’s an important warning, or an even more important harsh truth.

The Tarot Of The Silicon Dawn is truly the most beautiful, inspired deck I have ever been lucky enough to stumble across. It is bold, inspiring and a must have for any witch out there with nerd tendencies, and I am already totally in love with it.

 

Is My Gender ShowingI’m an animal, people and tree hugging ecofeminist. Sporadic fiction writer and freelance journalist with a new blog, Is My Gender Showing? about all areas of feminism with a focus on objectification, gender roles and mental health. I also from time to time document my adventures with No More Page 3 Leeds and Yorkshire Feminista. I can be on Twitter found at @feministvibes

Florynce “Flo” Kennedy – A Black Radical Feminist

Cross-posted from: Carolyn Gage
Originally published: 28.04.16

Florynce Kennedy… The first and only time I ever saw her on camera was in the cameo role of “Zella Wylie” in the Lizzie Borden film, Born in Flames. A kind of women’s liberation “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Zella mentors the young female militants who are engaged in overthrowing the patriarchy and taking over the world in this feminist, science fiction classic.  Here’s “Zella,” addressing an age-old feminist concern:

“All oppressed people have a right to violence. It’s like the right to pee: you’ve gotta have the right place, you’ve gotta have the right time, you’ve gotta have the appropriate situation. And believe me, this is the appropriate situation.”

And Florynce would know. She had organized a “pee-in” at Harvard University to protest the lack of women’s bathrooms.  …

 

You can read the full post here. 

 

Quicksand Worrier by Obscure & Unnecessary Drama

Cross-posted from: Obscure & Unnecessary Drama
Originally published: 27.03.16

If my thoughts were constantly displayed on my face, they’d be two kinked lines running across my forehead with a furrowed brow. It’s just that the year 2016 has been overwhelmingly different right from new year’s eve. I didn’t realise that the last week of December and the new year was going to whisk me away so frantically that all constants would change. Evolve. Right in front of my eyes. I’m not complaining. Changes have been kind to me for once or may be I’m ‘growing up’ to accept them. It feels like the same me though. Same face, same hair, same girl, same exterior, same heart and mind. Yet so so different. Like the axis of my daily life has shifted.
Read more Quicksand Worrier by Obscure & Unnecessary Drama

Fictions of Conflict

Cross-posted from: The Cultural Collage
Originally published: 25.08.14

A recent issue of Private Eye published a spoof newspaper front page purportedly from the start of WWI, drawing parallels between the international conflict of that time and our own. Juxtaposed with this was an article about what a fabulous summer it was, full of ice-creams and donkey rides on the beach. Of course, the joke of this front page is that whilst we are sated with immediate sweet and simple pleasures we can ignore the horror to come. I found it funny and frightening.

I’ve thought of that spoof quite often during the past weeks of my son’s summer holiday, whilst eating ice-creams on the beach (no donkeys any more). Yet … my natural inclination to catastrophise means I am drawn to the news bulletins of the many, terrifying conflicts that have punctuated this summer. They seem to draw together in our collective consciousness to predicate a disaster of greater magnitude. There has been a shadow cast over the bright sunny beach, a shadow of conflicts reaching ever closer.
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My History by Antonia Fraser – Book Review

Cross-posted from: Adventures in Biography
Originally published: 25.01.16

Antonia FraserPrivilege is relative, isn’t it.  As long as there is someone wealthier, smarter or better-off than you, then it’s hard to consider yourself privileged.  Even when you most certainly are.

English biographer Antonia Fraser DBE is something of a paragon.  Her biographies are best sellers (Mary Queen of Scots) that get made into movies by the hollywood elite (Marie Antoinette).  The several I have read are engaging, impeccably researched and – on occasion and appropriately – laugh out loud funny (Warrior Queens).

In her ‘Memoir of Growing Up’ Fraser, now in her eighties, is at pains to describe what an ordinary girl she was, and how middle-class her upbringing.  This despite being the granddaughter of an Earl and, on her mother’s side, a wealthy Harley Street medico.  She grew up in North Oxford (not as well-to-do, Fraser assures us, as South Oxford) where her father was a don and, later, a Labour minister in England’s post-WWII government.
Read more My History by Antonia Fraser – Book Review

Vesta, Persephone, Ana Mendieta: Sacred Altars Re-visited by @rebecca9

Cross-posted from: The Daly Woolf
Originally published: 15.10.15

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I am intrigued by asteroids. Peculiar asymmetrical floating formations of carbon, stone, and metal. Piles of streaming space rubble, some astronomers conclude. There are literally thousands (and more being discovered) of these eccentric objects in orbit around the sun ranging in size from pebbles to hundreds of miles of surface. Their home is called the asteroid belt, that celestial territory between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers conjecture that asteroids are the leftover material of our solar system, or the fractured remains of what was once a planet, but they don’t know for sure. The four major asteroids (major because of their size) are Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, Hygiea; allegorically symbolized in the astrological literature as females with mythological roots in the Roman and Greek storied timeline.

Most astrologers don’t often include the asteroids in readings, partly, I think, because so little is known about them. The Dawn Spaceprobe has been orbiting the asteroid belt for about eight years now so we can expect to hear much more about the features and mechanics of the main asteroids.

Modern astronomers with their Uranian cache of prodigious technological wizardry and mechanistic mental mainframes can’t  provide us with the links to understand the deeper meaning and signification of these astonishing cosmic asteroidal actors. We are immensely fortunate though to have in our arsenal of historical reverie and scholarship the few books that do bring the asteroids into narrative relevance. Demetra George’s The Asteroid Goddesses is most famous. Yet, hereto, once again the myths lead us around the amiable, well manicured, predictable grounds of the Father’s House. Imprinted in the psyche are the usual tractable, complimentary female, archetypically tedious characters with their patriarchal stamp of approval: Consorts, Divinely Feminine Hearth Keepers, Critical Feminine Warriors sprung from Daddy’s Head (critical of who and what we should ask), and The Steadfast Domestically Satiated Goodly Wife. Never are we let to stray too far from those  Gardens of Heaven and the often gruesome violence meted to those who stray out of bounds.
Read more Vesta, Persephone, Ana Mendieta: Sacred Altars Re-visited by @rebecca9

Elsie Macgill: first female aircraft designer in the world and activist

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science

tumblr_n475b965pZ1s9nn84o1_r1_1280Meet Elsie MacGill, a legend in aircraft design and production and the first female aircraft designer in the world. In 1938 she became Chief Aeronautical Engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry where she led the production and redesign of several planes including the Hawker Hurricane – the plane responsible for the most British victories in WWII. Most of the employees in the factory were women and by the wars end they had produced 1,400 aircraft, a massive feat. Elsie had forged new techniques for aeroplane production and mass production and won the Gzowski Medal for this work.
Read more Elsie Macgill: first female aircraft designer in the world and activist

A Medieval English Islamophobic Romance, Written in the Daily Mail by @LucyAllenFWR

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A few weeks ago, while I was busy with various things including signing an open letter written by my colleague*, I discovered in passing that a very small group of people I’d never met or spoken to were getting quite het up about my teaching of Medieval romance. This was, naturally, a bit of a surprise. My students seemed broadly quite positive about the course, so I put it to the back of my mind. But, this morning, I saw something on David Perry’s blog – Islamophobic rallies in Prague were attended by participants wearing the costumes of medieval Crusaders – and something suddenly clicked for me.

The criticism I’d received had come from a Change.org petition (I’m not sure whether to be insulted or pleased it’s only got 94 signatures, or rather less than a full lecture hall). The main critique focussed on our open letter, but I also came to a criticism – apparently written under the misapprehension that I’m a history lecturer, but clearly referring to my course:

“A more legitimate concern in academia should be that a history lecturer calling for this act of censorship thinks Medieval romance perpetuates Islamophobia –  a breathtaking a-historicism that really should have alarm bells ringing.”

At the time, I was bemused.
Read more A Medieval English Islamophobic Romance, Written in the Daily Mail by @LucyAllenFWR

RAISING THE DEAD: MEDICINE WOMEN AND SOUL RETRIEVAL

Cross-posted from: Suppressed Histories Archive
Originally published: 21.04.13

Bari Gongju

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Bari Gongju, whose strength of spirit overcame daunting obstacles

Korean tradition holds that the first shaman was female, Bari Gongju (also transliterated as Pali Kongju). Her name means “Princess Thrown-Away.” Her father cast her off at birth for being a girl, the seventh in a series of daughters. He tore her from her mother’s arms, locked her in a jeweled box, and cast her into the ocean. Turtles or dragons rescued her and brought her to a peasant couple, who raised her. She eventually became a mudang.

Her story turns on her filial behavior, years later, when her parents became sick. The Mountain God appeared before her and told her that her parents were sick. Only water from the Western Sky Heaven could cure them.  Bari Gongju went to the palace and, disclosing her identity, said that she would undertake the dangerous journey to find the water.

It was a long journey through the spirit world to the Western Sky.  Disguised as a boy, Pali Kongju passed between the North Pole Star and the South Pole Star.  She met the Old Farming Woman of Heaven, who made her plow and sow a field by herself.  Then she had to get past the Laundress of Heaven, who forced her to wash all her laundry from black to white, causing a monsoon. Finally, she reached cliffs that led to the Western Sky.  Once again, golden turtles came to her rescue, forming a bridge to get her there safely.  She found the well with the water of life, protected by the Guardian, a rather disagreeable old man.  Still dressed as a boy, she asked him for some of the water, but when he learned she had no money to pay for it, he refused. [Tara, online; i retain her spelling in this excerpt.]

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Mudang in the multi-colored robes of Bari Gongju

But Bari Gongju convinced the Guardian to let her become his servant. After three years of work, she was no closer to getting the water. Then the Guardian discovered that she was female, and asked her to marry him. She did so, and bore him seven sons. Only then did he give her the elixir of water. She returned to find that her parents had just died, with funeral ceremonies underway. She sprinkled them with the water and brought them back to life. They gratefully offered her a place in the palace, but she refused.

She returned to the spirit world, where she became a goddess who helps souls of the dead journey to the otherworld. “Except for Cheju [Jeju] Island, Pali Kongju is regarded as the ancestor of modern shamans in Korea, even though she has been known by many different names.” [Lee, 169, note 9] She is a prototype celebrated in rituals in which the mudang enact the story of her passing through a portal of the Underworld. They wear sleeves striped with a rainbow of colors.

A Lakota Medicine woman

The wana’gi wapiyé Lucille Kills Enemy treated Mel Lone Hill for recurring pneumonia in the early 1950s, when she was in her 80sShe came to Mel’s house to doctor him when he was near death. “She had to go find me on the other side. She was probably the only one I knew of who was that powerful.” [St Pierre and Long Soldier, 199] Here the account of the shamanic journey is missing – which is not to say it did not exist, only that it does not appear in print – but stories of soul retrieval from “the other side” recur over and over in the annals of shamanic healing, all over the world.

Yeshe Tsogyal

Stories about the co-founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Yeshe Tsogyel, retain aspects of shamanic culture even though firmly placed within a Buddhist context. She is described as a khandro, or dakini, rather

Yeshe Tsogyel wields the  phurba, a three sided ritual blade
Yeshe Tsogyel wields the phurba, a three sided ritual blade

than as a “shaman.” It is through meditation that she acquires siddhis, or powers: “Where shale and snow met, I found the mystic heat’s inner warmth…” [Dowman, 94]

These powers include the classic shamanic art of spirit flight: “The fledgling dakini-bird nesting in a crag / Could not conceive how easy was flight /Until her skill in the six vehicles was perfected; / But her potential released, wings beating with hidden strength/ Breaking the back of even the razor-edged wind,/ She arrived at whatever distination she chose.” [Dowman, 160]

Thangkas often show Yeshe Tsogyal wielding a phurba, a ritual knife that Himalayan shamans use in healing. It also has an esoteric significance as “remover of obstacles.” Without enumerating all the parallels between Buddhist adepts and Indigenous shamans, I’ll simply note that her siddhis extended even to the power to revive the dead: “In Nepal, I resurrected the corpse of a dead man… My body became a sky-dancing rainbow body…” [Dowman, 94]

Inanna and Ishtar

Returning to the theme of shamanic goddesses, both Inanna and Ishtar are winged, and emanate the me (powers, rites, skills, and offices) from their shoulders. Among these me are religious offices, the scepter, staff – the caduceus occurring first in the Mesopotamian iconography of Ishtar—magicianship, descent to and ascent from underworld, various arts, and five different kinds of drums.

inannahuluppu

The drum figures in a story of Inanna planting a magical huluppu tree in her garden. In its three levels came to live the serpent, the wild-woman Lilitu, and Anzu the thunderbird. Inanna caused the magical tree to be felled and a drum and drumstick made from its wood – but gave them to Gilgamesh. So the shamanic power is displaced from Inanna to the male hero, ultimately with negative results.

But it is Inanna/Ishtar who descends to the underworld, passing through its seven gates. She did not perform this pre-eminently shamanic act to bring back a dead soul, however, but as a journey of spiritual discovery and transformation.

Other ancient parallels

Other shamanic women are described as having the power to raise the dead to appear before the living, though not to revive them. The “Witch of Ein Dor” called up the shade of Samuel at the command of Saul. This king had himself persecuted such women, as the biblical account explains; but he set aside the death penalty when he himself needed their services. Her actual title in Hebrew reveals her shamanic dimensions: Baalat Ob, “Mistress of the Talisman,” or to put it another way, “medicine object.”

The Cumaean Sibyl had the power to conduct Aeneas to the Underworld. Mount Cuma overlooks the bay of Naples and a group of volcanic fumeroles called the Flaming Fields. The nearby crater lake Avernus was known as the entrance to Tartarus, land of the dead. Ancient writers referred to an oracle of the dead in this place in the time of Odysseus. [Strabo, V, 4, 5] The rock of mount Cuma was riddled with wide underground galleries and chambers and caves “from which a hundred wide tunnels, a hundred mouths lead, from which as many voices rush: the sibyl’s replies.” [Aeneid VI, online]

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The Sibyl of Cumae conducts Aeneas to the Underworld

According to Livy, the first sibyl came to Cumae after the burning of Troy, but Virgil shows a sibyl already living there when Aeneas fled Troy. Arriving in Italy, he came to consult the Cumaean sibyl, addressing her as “O most holy prophetess, you who see the future…” [Aeneid VI] The old seeress Deiphobe sat in silence, gazing at the floor, and slowly entered trance. She agreed to help the Trojan hero descend to the underworld to search out his father. But first, she told him, he must seek the golden bough (mistletoe, “sacred to Proserpina”) as an offering to the guardians of the gates of Hades.

Then the sibyl guided Aeneas on a journey to the realm of the dead. She began with an offering of four steers and a heifer before “a wide-mouthed cavern, deep and vast and rugged.” Entering the cave, they descended deep into the earth. When challenged by Charon, she opened her robe to show the golden bough, and he allowed them passage. Aeneas communed with his father’s shade, and then the sibyl brought him back to the world of the living.  [Aeneid, VI, 50-1000]

Teresa de Cabora

A modern Mexican woman underwent an otherworld journey that was precipitated by a traumatic attack. A ranch hand beat and raped Teresa Urrea when she was only 15 years old. She remained in a coma for months; doctors then pronounced her dead, and she was very nearly buried. But she revived, sitting up next to the coffin that had been brought in. During the months when she appeared unconscious, she had experienced visions and became transformed into a healer with deep prophetic insight. She began curing people suffering from cancer, blindness, stroke, and paralysis.

Teresa Urrea, la Santa de Cabora
Teresa Urrea, la Santa de Cabora

Teresita became known as la Santa de Cabora, and thousands of Indian people came in a steady stream to the Cabora ranch to see her and be healed by her touch and gaze. This daughter of an Indian teen and a wealthly rancher in Sinaloa was a skilled healer even before her extended near-death experience, having trained under the midwife/curandera la Huila and a Yaqui medicine man.

But Teresa was a political visionary too. She became an inspiration to Indian rebels as a prophetess of Indian rights and a forerunner of the Mexican Revolution who co-authored el Plan de Tomóchic, one of the most radical declarations of human rights ever written. It called for new laws “declaring both men and women, whites and blacks, natives and foreigners, rich and poor, have the the same rights, duties and privileges and that they be absolutely equal before the law.” We have yet to attain those goals today.

For more about medicine women’s journeys in the spirit, take a look at the video Woman Shaman: the Ancients (released in April, 2013).

Sources

Covell, Alan Carter, Folk Art and Magic: Shamanism in Korea. Seoul: Hollym (1986)

Tara the Antisocial Social Worker, “How a Woman Becomes a Goddess: Pali Kongju” The Daily Kos, Aug 19, 2009. Online: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/08/19/769300/-How-a-Woman-Becomes-a-Goddess-Pali-Kongju Accessed Dec. 29, 2012

Lee, Jung Young Lee. Korean Shamanistic Rituals. Walter de Gruyter, 1981

Dowman, Keith. Sky Dancer: The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel, Ithaca NY: Snow Lion, 1996

Mark St Pierre and Tilda Long Soldier, Walking in the Sacred Manner: Healers, Dreamers, and Pipe Carriers-Medicine Women of the Plains Indians. New York: Touchstone/ Simon & Schuster, 1995

NEW MOUNTAINS, NEW MAPS. at Fish without a Bicycle

Cross-posted from: Fish without at Bicycle
Originally published: 15.03.15

…when women speak truly they speak subversively–they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want–to hear you erupting. You young Mount St. Helenses who don’t know the power in you–I want to hear you. Ursula K. Le Guin

I have not been able to write. There is a weight on my chest that has been there for months. It heats up and swirls around and settles heavy when I endeavor to speak to the confusion, outrage and injustice as I take in another narrative of child sex trafficking, the dismantling of reproductive rights and a woman who was recently convicted of Feticide after having a miscarriage. My pulse quickens as I read the latest update of a rape case in which a boy chummily gave a thumbs up in a photo while he penetrated a 15-year-old girl from behind as she vomited out of a window. That split second in her life was memorialized, fed to and devoured by the millions of people in a culture that is fueled by images of female degradation. Rehteah Parsons hung herself in her home on April 4, 2013; her mother pushed open her bathroom door and held the body of her lifeless teenage daughter. In January, the boys involved with her rape and the photo of it were handed a 4-week course on sexual harassment because after all, consent is “complicated.” Mount Holyoke (a Women’s College) cancelled their production of the Vagina Monologues because some members of the student body have adopted the ideology that to stage a production that acknowledges and focuses on the experiences of women who have vaginas is “inherently narrow, reductionist and is exclusionary” to women who do not have vaginas. I can’t help but wonder what could happen if the same internet outrage that that was turned toward Eve Enlser for her work that “reduces gender to biological distinctions” was turned toward the hordes of men who perpetrate psychic gang rapes on Twitter by talking about how they are going to dismember, defile and denigrate the vaginas of women who speak out of turn. Feminist writers are putting down their pens and stepping out of public conversation because the hate speech, death threats, and the vitriol are all so much. Yes, we live in an era of “call out culture” but I have never seen a woman say she was going to sexually violate someone’s face and then murder them because she disagreed with something they said, nor have I seen men doing this to other men.
Read more NEW MOUNTAINS, NEW MAPS. at Fish without a Bicycle

‘Maman, What Are We Called Now?’ by Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar

Cross-posted from: Madam J-Mo
Originally published: 25.11.15

Persephone Book No 115 is the real-life Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 19.38.43diary of Parisian Jewish journalist Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar written during the final weeks of World War Two while her husband André was imprisoned by the Nazis.

Betraying her experiences as a writer, Maman, What Are We Called Now? is a beautifully constructed series of heartbreakingly sad snapshots into the terrifying, traumatic and chaotic existence for those left behind by the war, desperate for news of their stolen loved ones.
Read more ‘Maman, What Are We Called Now?’ by Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar

Meryl Streep’s T Shirt, Emmeline Pankhurst’s Body, and Plural Narratives of Oppression by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from: Reading Medieval Books
Originally published: 16.10.15

quotation

Quotation is a tricky business, and so – as I’m about to remind myself as I’m beginning a new term teaching – is interpretation of words written far in the past. Connotations and implications that were once so obvious they didn’t need spelling out, become dated and obscure within a surprisingly short time – and if you whittle a quotation down to a few pithy words, or a single bold statement, you’re basically leaving it standing out there shivering, wondering where all the comforting context went. And this is a particular problem with feminist quotations, which seem to be subject to a kind of massed, retrospective contempsplaining effect, as everyone rushes to tell long-dead feminist women what they really meant. For example, I’ve seen de Beavoir’s famous dictim, “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” interpreted as a powerful attack on the idea that women are oppressed due to their reproductive biology. And it makes me wince every time, because women’s words deserve to be read in context, not snipped down to the smallest space possible, like a photoshopped model’s unrecognisable body in Vogue.


Read more Meryl Streep’s T Shirt, Emmeline Pankhurst’s Body, and Plural Narratives of Oppression by @LucyAllenFWR

Ali Smith, Public Library and what libraries mean to me

Cross-posted from: Sian and Crooked Rib
Originally published: 23.11.15

I’m lucky enough to be reviewing Ali Smith’s new short story collection, Public Library, for Open Democracy 50:50. So watch this space, I’ll post the link once it’s filed and live.

However, the process of reading and reviewing the book made me think about my own relationship with libraries. And so I thought I would post here something I wrote earlier in the year for Bristol 24/7 because as far as I can tell, they deleted all the articles I wrote for them…

So, here you go:

The Power of Libraries
Read more Ali Smith, Public Library and what libraries mean to me

GODDESSES OF THE KALASHA

Cross-posted from: Suppressed Histories Archives
Originally published: 09.07.13

One of the last peoples of western Asia to retain their aboriginal culture are the Kalasha of upper Pakistan. They speak an ancient Indo-Iranian language, Dardic, which conserves very ancient features. They took refuge in the mountains of Chitral a long time ago, surviving many waves of invaders. One of the last of these named them Kafir Kalash, “Black Pagans,” after the black robes of the women, and their refusal to convert to Islam. The individual tribes call themselves by older names: Kati, Kom, Vasi, Presun.

Kafiristan, shown in lower center
Kafiristan, shown in lower center

A neighboring group of Kalash people speak a different Indo-Iranian language but shared many cultural ideas and deities. [Witzel, 2] They live in the northwestern region of Afghanistan, which Muslims dubbed Kafiristan, Land of Pagans. In 1895-96, the Afghan emir Abdur Rahman Khan led an attack on the country, declaring “that either the Kafirs would be converted to Islam or be wiped off the face of the earth… Even the names of their villages were Islamised.” [Zaidi, online]

The emir’s armies forcibly converted the Kalasha, and  destroyed their temples and icons. “Altars were burned, priests murdered, boys kidnapped and conscripted to military school in Kabul. Only several hundred Kati Kafirs (the Red Kafirs of the Bashgal Valley) managed to flee across the border.” [Witek, online] The conqueror renamed the region Nuristan, “Land of Light,” symbolizing what he saw as their rescue from pagan darkness.
Read more GODDESSES OF THE KALASHA

Meet Marie Tharp the controversial geologist who produced the first ever map of the Ocean floor

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science
Originally published: 21.11.14

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Meet Marie Tharp the controversial geologist who produced the first ever map of the Ocean floor. Her work completely turned geology upside down and proved that the ocean floor was not just a boring flat plane of mud but actually filled with extreme mountains, volcanos, canyons and moving masses. Her most controversial discovery is that of the Mid-Ocean Ridges, chains of moving mountains that cover the entire earth. At that time anyone who believed in plate tectonics or continental drift was considered an idiot, Marie’s work proved that they were in fact real.  “I was so busy making maps I let them argue [….] there’s truth to the old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words and that seeing is believing.“
Read more Meet Marie Tharp the controversial geologist who produced the first ever map of the Ocean floor

November 25 is the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women – not White Ribbon Day

Cross-posted from: Louise Pennington
Originally published: 25.11.15

November 25th was first chosen as the date for an annual day of protest of male violence in 1981. This occurred at the first Feminist Conference for Latin American and Caribbean Women in Bogota. It was chosen in memory of Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva Mirabel.

The Mirabel sisters were political activists who fought the fascist government of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. They stood up to a genocidal regime that used torture, rape and kidnapping and they were murdered for it. This is why November 25th was chosen as an international day of activism that “denounced all forms men’s violence against women from domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment to state violence including torture and abuse of women political prisoners.”

November 25th received official recognition as an international day to raise awareness of violence against women from United Nations on December 17, 1999.

None of this information is out with the public realm. Even Wikipedia, not known for its accuracy, manages to get the facts right. Yet, November 25th is rarely referred to as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women anymore. Instead, it is called White Ribbon day after a campaign started by men in Canada. 
Read more November 25 is the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women – not White Ribbon Day

‘Surf’s Up! In praise of the second wave’ by Finn Mackay

Originally published: 19.04.04

Where were you in the 1970’s? If you were anything like me you were probably in the process of being born, going to primary school and watching ‘Bagpuss’, ‘Basil Brush’ and other such frivolities. At my tender 27 years I missed out on so much, the communes, the town hall politics, Greenham Common… Its certainly not the 1970’s any more, but one thing hasn’t changed – and that’s the fact that there is reason to be angry!

There is so much to be angry at in the world, and so many people who seem not to notice or, worse still, to see our own oppression as some kind of progressive liberation. Really, the oppression of women is nothing new, its only been going on for centuries and it isn’t over yet. In this country 2 women every week are murdered by a male partner[1], women in Britain still earn around 20% less than men in like for like jobs[2], rape convictions are plummeting while reporting continues to rise[3], 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime[4], women have better political representation in Rwanda than here in the UK, globally women make up over 70% of those living in absolute poverty and everywhere in the world women earn on average at least 25% less than men[5]. Its hardly equality is it? So why do so many women think the battle is over and where is this perfect rosy world they speak of where women have got it all?
Read more ‘Surf’s Up! In praise of the second wave’ by Finn Mackay